Thursday, November 23, 2017

Surging Army seeks perfection at home against ACC foe Duke

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WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) Army coach Jeff Monken and his Black Knights are riding quite a streak, and they're intent on keeping it going in the final home game of the season.

Senior Day is always a big deal at West Point because of the unique closeness of the Cadets, and Monken wants this class to go out the right way when Duke (4-5) visits on Saturday. Army (7-2), fresh from a dominating 21-0 victory at Air Force, has won five in a row and is 5-0 at Michie Stadium. A triumph over the Blue Devils would make this Army team the first to be perfect at home in a season since 1996.

"This is a really special group of guys, really, because we've had them since they were freshmen," said Monken, in his fourth season at Army. "When you have a whole team of guys that have been around with one coaching staff, and seeing the change from their freshman year to now, it's really satisfying to see what they've been able to accomplish together as a group."

What the Black Knights have accomplished is special for a program that's been down and out for the better part of two decades. Dating to last season, they've won 10 of 12 games and will play in a bowl game for the second straight year, which has happened only one other time at the academy in the mid-1980s under Jim Young.

The Blue Devils have had Army's number in the recent past, winning the last two games in the series, and are coming off a bye week.

"We have played them the past couple of years, so they've become more of a conference game," Monken said. "It will be interesting to see how this plays out. They've had a couple of weeks to get prepared for us."

Two years ago, Duke won 44-3 at Michie Stadium. That the Blue Devils are hopeful of landing a bowl bid places added pressure on a team that's lost five straight.

"It wasn't the best stretch of games before that bye week," Duke offensive tackle Gabe Brandner said. "We're definitely looking forward to getting back on the field. We need to just find the rhythm again, keep chiseling away."

Added Duke safety Alonzo Saxton II: "We're still trying to extend our season. It's definitely got more intense. We should be more prepared for this week than any other week. We've got to get it done this week. We still have something to play for."

Other things to know when Army hosts Duke on Senior Day:

BRADSHAW'S RUN: Army QB Ahmad Bradshaw is climbing the record books at West Point. The senior captain now ranks second among quarterbacks in academy history with 10 100-yard rushing games, half of them this season, and is eighth all-time in career rushing yards with 2,424. He's coming off a career-high, 265-yard game against Air Force.

"He's just so poised," Monken said. "When he steps in the huddle, the other 10 guys believe he's going to lead them down the field."

DEFENDERS SUPREME: The Duke defense has forced 14 turnovers including a school single-season record of four interception returns for touchdowns but the offense has nearly negated that by throwing eight interceptions and losing five fumbles. The losing streak includes three straight losses by seven points each.

"It's been a year where offensively we've had our problems," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. "But our defense has been pretty steady and kept us in ballgames. It's hard to play great defense if your offense isn't staying on the field. I am very proud of what we've accomplished there."

TOP DOG AT LAST: Army is the only team in the nation to surpass 3,000 yards rushing. Its triple option has produced 3,289 yards and the Black Knights enter the game averaging 365.4 yards a game.

BLUE DEVILS EDGE: Duke is no stranger to the triple option. This is the third straight season the Blue Devils will play both Army and Atlantic Coast Conference foe Georgia Tech, and those teams are masters of that ground-oriented attack. Georgia Tech is third nationally (331.9).

"They've got an option plan that they've developed over the years, and it's gotten better and better each year," Monken said. "They find new wrinkles and new things that they do against us that makes it really difficult."

"It's a challenge, there's no question," Cutcliffe said. "These guys are outstanding running the football."

VETERANS DAY CROWD: Saturday is Veterans Day and Michie Stadium is sold out for the first time since last year's Air Force game.

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AP Sports Writers Joedy McCreary and Aaron Beard in North Carolina contributed to this report.

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More AP college football: http://collegefootball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25

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Kekis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Greek1947

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